March 2 marks 109 years since the great Theodore Geisel's birth. Who was Theodore Geisel, you may ask? I'll give you a hint. His middle name was five letters long, with three S's and he preferred to go by Doctor. Here's another hint - if you are under 50 years old, he was probably someone who taught you how to read.
If cats and hats, ham and eggs and fish in all colors of the rainbow jumped into your head, you've probably guessed it. Theodore Geisel was the real name of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss.
Dr. Seuss' books probably wouldn't be published today - his stories run long and can be very repetitive in the current world of "less is more" publishing. They certainly exceed the 1,000 word suggested max word count for picture books. He may be hard-pressed to find a publisher willing to print his 60+ page tomes for children, but ... because he is Dr. Seuss, he is printed. And he may be printed for as long as elementary school aged children learn to read. Seuss has even made the leap over to TV, movies and iPad.
When Seuss began writing for children, he was approached by a director for Houghton Publishing and asked to write a book using the top 250 words that first-graders should recognize. (Some sources claim 250, others claim he 225 of which he used 223 and 13 more. Hard to say with unreliable internet research...) Several authors at the time were doing the same time with little readers, in Dick and Jane style, but William Ellsworth Spaulding, the Houghton director, had a sneaking suspicion they were boring. He wanted Seuss to mix things up a bit, make reading fun and exciting for kids.
And so, with 236 of those 250 words, repeated many, many times, Dr. Seuss created Cat in the Hat. Never one of my favorites, I was impartial to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish growing up, along with The Butter Battle Book. I won a read aloud contest in middle school for my dramatic rendition of Green Eggs and Ham and was awarded a Music Millennium gift card (Portland shout-out!) that eventually made its way into someone in my family with considerably more prowess in a music store. Leave me with the books ...
Now, beyond his beginning reader books, Seuss made a splash on a couple of other fronts. One was his thinly veiled dream image of a peaceful, egalitarian, environmentally aware world that existed in books like The Lorax and The Sneetches, and the other was his ability to play with words that absolutely did not exist. I'm not sure how the man who stuck to 236 common words for Cat in the Hat ended up writing about things like Whoville and Fiffer-Feffer-Feff and Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, but he did.
When Seuss was writing and not illustrating, he published under the pseudonym Theo LeSieg, which is Geisel backwards.
Although he was notably a bit of a perfectionist and could spend a very long time with a book, he was unquestionably one of the most prolific authors of the past century.
So, what to do at writercize to celebrate the late, great Dr. Seuss? How about a whole week of Seuss-ercize! There will be THREE Dr. Seuss inspired writercizes this week! So stay tuned, and get ready to writercize, because there is some great stuff headed your way!